If you’re in ag, this headline likely made you roll your eyes after a few trying weeks of threats to the use of antibiotics.  If you’re not a part of agriculture, you likely have some concerns about about antibiotic usage in food production. Where’s the disconnect?  I believe that the different perspectives come from varying life experiences – remember that 98.5% of the U.S. population have no direct connection with farming.

As a mom, I spend more time worrying about the over-dosage of medication readily available for children than I do about food being pumped full of antibiotics. My agricultural background gives me a very different perspective than most of my girlfriends who worry about what’s in their children’s food. It doesn’t mean either side is wrong or un-educated; I’d be suspicous from all of the misinformation campaigns if didn’t know the difference from firsthand experiences with giving cattle shots and a degree in Animal Science.

Here it is in simple black and white; antibiotics are needed to keep animals healthy and your food supply safe.  Antibiotics used in food animal production undergo more stringent testing than human antibiotics.  Antibiotics are expensive, which disincentivizes farmers to use them unnecessarily.  Low levels of ionophores in feed undergo the same scrutiny. Again, these help keep animals healthier through reduced bloating, coccidiosis and acidosis – not to mention lessening methane production. The end result?  Better food for you.

There are numerous checkpoints throughout the food system to protect consumers. For example, no antibiotics are in USDA Grade A milk – it’s checked when a bulk tank of milk leaves the farm, as the tanker arrives at the processor and randomly throughout the bottling process.  Learn more the issue from the people who have firsthand knowledge of animals, their health – and the effect of  both on your food at Animal Health Institute.

We had an interesting dialogue in #AgChat on Twitter this week about farm usage of antibiotics and how to protect the food supply. There were a number of experienced ag people from the crop side of the business who learned just as much as non-ag consumers. Not everyone could agree if antibiotics should only be prescribed by vets or not. Different species use antibiotics in different ways. However, the one point of agreement was the farmers need to be responsible following the protocol  of withholding times (length of time between medication and food harvest).  Many farmers also pointed to their declining use of antibiotics because of management and environmental improvements in the last 20 years.

Antibiotics can be a tough issue, but let’s leave the choice for usage to those who know animals – veterinarians and farmers – rather than lawmakers and lobbyists.  By all means, familiarize yourself with the issue. Consider the increase of antibiotics amongst humans and if you don’t raise animals, visit a farmer to see firsthand how they try to do the right thing for the right reasons. You might be surprised at what you learn.